And the winner is – death and exploitation (again)

Looking at the recent winners of the World Press Photo 2010 winners calls to mind Daria’s Sick Sad World – when did the earth become so depressing? And that’s coming from me, a person who looks at infant morality rates and poverty related statistics all day for a living.

Yes, the world isn’t perfect but should we really be glorifying photojournalists who capture bodies being flung into piles, suicides from rooftops and severed heads? What about the humanity and the dignity of the subject, and the families they leave behind? These events need to be documented but there is something truly macabre about all the top photographs being centred on death and mutilation.

Which brings me to the winning portrait of Bibi Aisha, an 18-year-old woman from Afghanistan who fled the violent treatment of her husband and was then captured by the Taliban to face ‘justice’. After a Taliban commander pronounced his verdict, Bibi’s brother-in-law held her down to allow her husband cut off her ears and then her nose. Bibi was rescued by the US military, has received surgery and is now living in America. Her suffering is unmeasurable and incomprehensible to my mind, but has her life been improved by being the subject of that portrait? Jodi Bieber the photographer of the image has certainly benefitted, as have the media with such a provocative* image.

Jury chair David Burnett said about the photo, “This could become one of those pictures – and we have maybe just ten in our lifetime – where if somebody says ‘you know, that picture of a girl…’, you know exactly which one they’re talking about.” Which to my mind objectifies Bibi and exploits a woman who has already been compromised and violated so savagely.

I believe World Press needs to rethink their selection criteria and not only choose the most shocking and violent images, but look deeper into the human condition and see the complexity and the beauty that lies within.

*code for demeaning, exploitative and just plain wrong.

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